Neck and shoulder pain will be experienced by most people at some point in their lives. It’s impossible to put a precise number on it, but with back pain being at an all time high, it’s likely that neck and shoulder pain is on the rise too. But what is causing this widespread discomfort and how can we remedy it – or better still, stop it happening all together?
The main cause of neck and shoulder pain.
There are many factors that can cause neck and shoulder pain, including spinal problems, trauma, sports injuries and more serious underlying health issues. But the most common cause of neck and shoulder pain is poor posture. More of us than ever before now lead sedentary lifestyles, often both at work and home and many people have jobs that involve looking at screens for long periods of time.
Anyone who has a screen or monitor on their desk should frequently check their set up for correct positioning, or ergonomics. Beware of cradling a phone between ear and shoulder, peering down at a screen and, probably the biggest problem of all, spending a great deal of time staring at a mobile phone – text neck is becoming a real issue for many.
How your neck and shoulders should align.
Your head weighs as much as a bowling ball. If it’s not in its proper alignment, it will put stress on the vertebrae in your neck and neck pain will follow, which can lead to shoulder pain too. So check your posture:
- Pull back your shoulders, with shoulder blades pointing down and chest muscles open. This should flatten the top of your back, around your shoulders.
- Straighten your neck. If you gently squeeze the tendons at the base of your skull, they should feel soft.
- Tuck in your chin towards your neck, not so much that you pull your neck but enough that the back of your neck feels long.
Imagine there’s a piece of string coming out of the top of your head. Visualise pulling that straight up and feel how aligned your neck and shoulders are – and you’ll probably feel a bit taller too.
What effect does slouching have on your neck and shoulders?
Compare the lovely straight-backed posture above to a slouched posture. Round your shoulders forward, lift your chin up and stick your head and chin forward. Your shoulders, back and neck will round and the tendons at the base of your skull will feel tight. This may not feel uncomfortable at first, partly because you’re used to it and partly because it feels relaxed. But over time, slouching causes great discomfort by adding strain to muscle and tissue, which in turn leads to tension and ultimately pain. You might experience headaches as well as tightness in your neck and shoulders.
So how can you encourage your body to learn its new, improved aligned posture?
Exercises to ease neck and shoulder pain.
Your body will more easily fall into the alignment it’s used to, no matter how wonky. As much as you remind yourself to sit up straight, old habits die hard. But if you strengthen the muscles that are being underused, your improved posture will soon become second nature. There are dozens and dozens of exercises to strengthen neck, rhomboids (between the shoulder blades) and pectorals (chest muscles), all of which will help you maintain a strong neck and shoulder alignment. Try these:
- Sit up straight in a chair.
- Tuck your chin towards your chest (not too much)
- Keeping your chin tucked, press your head towards the wall behind you.
- Hold for a few seconds, relax and repeat. Aim for 30 reps a day, split over several sets.
- Stand or sit with your back straight – chin should be tucked in slightly and shoulders back slightly.
- Slowly squeeze your shoulders blades together as hard and far as you can, without pain.
- Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Stand in a doorway or at the end of a wall.
- Place left leg slightly in front and right leg behind.
- Bring right arm up to 90 degree bend with upper arm parallel to the floor.
- Place palm and inside arm on the wall or inside doorway.
- Gently press the chest though the opening and feel a stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
- Swap sides, remembering to shift foot positions too. Alternate sides 2 or 3 times.
If you don’t notice any improvement in your neck and shoulder pain, make an appointment with one of our Osteopaths. They can give you specific exercises for your particular pain and suggest other ways to improve your posture.